How a sunburst of colour can light up our lives

In her weekly column Olive Ryan shares advice on what flowers and veg we should be preparing to sow
How a sunburst of colour can light up our lives

Summer flowering bulbs add great colour to the garden and need to be planted now

ON the sunny days, you can visibly see the flowers perk up before your eyes. The soil is getting ready to erupt with life in the coming weeks, but currently we have very saturated soils to deal with and plenty of run off water to boot!

On the plus side, the temperatures have come up into double figures during the day but, alas, we cannot have it all just yet and we need to wait a little longer for ideal growing conditions to materialize.

Not to worry though, as there are still plenty of jobs that we can be getting on with, even if we have to leave soil preparation in its many forms for a little while longer.

Early potatoes can be going into the soil soon, but before planting it is a good idea to chit the tubers first for a few weeks. This entails placing them on a sunny windowsill and allowing the growing buds/eyes on the tubers to begin growth before putting them into the soil, which is too cold in January and February for any substantial growth to get going.

Chitting the tubers gives them a head start, which means that you get a potato crop earlier.

Generally, it is best to allow only two or three sprouts to develop per seed potato, as if they are all allowed to grow there will be too much competition, resulting in plenty of small-sized potatoes. Rub out any excess sprouts that are developing to decrease competition.

Potatoes are traditionally grown in the ground and ‘earthed up’ as growth begins. A polytunnel is ideal for an early crop of new potatoes to avoid damage by any late frosts in May. They can also be grown in containers for those with less space, as long as the container has room for the addition of soil/compost on top once the shoots begin to emerge. 

Tall, narrow vessels are good and there are even specially designed canvas bags with removable windows at the sides to allow for checking and harvesting the crop.

Check out Atkins Garden Shop for more details about purchase and delivery of these bags.

Use a nutrient-rich potting mix with equal parts compost and topsoil for best results. Put 4-6 inches of growing medium at the bottom of the pot, place tubers with developing buds facing up, and cover with an additional 4-6 inches of growing mix. Including some well-rotted farmyard manure will pay off dividends and also ensure that the medium used for ‘earthing up’ the shoots as they push up through the soil is nutrient-rich so that the developing tubers are getting a constant injection of food.

Earth up until the bag/pot is within a few inches of the top. Early potatoes usually take about 100 days to mature.

Potatoe Growbags.
Potatoe Growbags.

There is no nicer taste than steamed new potatoes in melted butter, something we can all look forward to this June, so let’s get chitting those seed potatoes!

Now is a great time to get planting summer flowering bulbs and there are many for sale in retail stores throughout the country, including gladiolus, dahlias, lilies, freesias — and a new one for me this year is Tigridia. It has exotic-shaped flowers appearing in late summer and I first saw it growing in Dublin Zoo a few years back, planted in drifts along the front of herbaceous plantings, an eye- catching flower in later summer (see Plant of the Week below).

Alliums, Hymenocallis, Ornithogalum and Galtonia will provide lovely splashes of summer colour, and it is a good idea to plant them now in pots that can be plunge planted into different spots that need some filling out or interest added later in the year.

It is also a good means of keeping track of some of the more unusual bulbs as, if they are planted out into the ground immediately, then they may be forgotten, trodden on or pulled out by mistake.

Hymenocallis ‘Sulphur Queen’
Hymenocallis ‘Sulphur Queen’

Use a good potting compost and, if you have some of your own leaf mould or homemade compost, add some for extra nourishment. Some grit around the base of the bulbs will help to ensure good drainage and a layer of grit on top will keep the weeds at bay.

Make sure they are well watered but not sitting in water constantly and it will not be long until foliage will appear.

For more tender bulbs like Hymenocallis ‘Sulphur Queen’ (spider lily or peruvian daffodil), keeping the bulbs in pots for the first year or two can be useful for bringing the bulbs in for the winter, much like we do with dahlia bulbs, as they may fall foul of hard frosts or very wet ground over the winter months.

Gladiolus are a very easy to grow bulb and it is a good idea to stagger plantings of the bulbs to ensure a continuous supply of flowers over a number of weeks in their first year of flowering. The bright colours are a popular addition to the garden and also come in very useful as a cut flower.

Tigridia pavonia.
Tigridia pavonia.

Plant of the week

Tigridia pavonia (inset below) is a great late summer flowering bulb. It is a native of Mexico and helps to bring some of that cheerful South American flamboyancy to the garden.

It is a member of the Iris family and has grassy leaves which emerge from the bulbs in spring. Considering its warm origins, it’s best to give it a sunny site with free-draining soil to give it the best chance of over-wintering.

The flowers emerge from mid to late summer and produce a range of colours from white, orange, red, yellow, and pink flowers, which have three prominent petals with a contrasting centre.

They will be sure to liven up the garden in late summer and give it a hot and spicy addition!

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